This is my first Author little Q+A and I am very excited and weirdly a tad nervous. First of all, I have to say a massive thank you to Marina Kemp for agreeing to take part in this. It’s been a fantastic experience for me and she’s been so kind. I really appreciate it.
I was lucky enough to get given a copy of ‘Nightingale’ when I attended the 4th Estate Live event in November (you can read all about that here). I got to listen to Marina talk about her debut novel, and it just made me want to read it even more.
‘Nightingale’ was my first 5⭐️ read of 2020, well I guess technically the new decade (you can check out that review here). I had a lot of questions to ask Marina, but I narrowed it down to 10 and the answers she’s given are brilliant. We talk about the novel, her next book and some advice for writers.
I hope you enjoy it.
1) Where did the inspiration come from for this book?
I wrote a short story when I was seventeen or eighteen, a relatively simple story about a young woman living with and nursing a cruel old man. I lost the story – it got stuck on a laptop that broke down and I never had fixed, and it may well have been very bad, anyway – but something about that premise, the central relationship between the young nurse and old man, never left me. When I was twenty-nine I tried to write the story again, but with over a decade of life in between it came out as something a) much longer and b) very different, with very different concerns and emphasises.
2) Why did you choose to set it in France? In this small town?
I wrote that original short story in France, in a small village much like Saint-Sulpice where my mother lives a large part of the year. When I came to rewrite the story, it never occurred to me to set it anywhere else. The remoteness of the setting but also its smallness turned out to be instrumental to many elements of the story: the isolation and the silence as well as the claustrophobia, gossip and watchfulness.
3) Did the characters story change as you wrote?
Absolutely. When I started writing, I didn’t know why Marguerite was running from – only that she was running. Similarly, Henri was in hiding from something in himself but at first I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. Their personal histories emerged with gathering clarity as the story progressed.
4) Henri’s character is so complex, can you tell me how you managed to get into that headspace as you wrote Henri’s character?
I love hearing you say that, because in many ways Henri was the character I felt closest to when I was writing the novel. His life is very different from my own, but I think his struggles are universal. He strives to live with nobility, and is crushed by shame in his own perceived failure to do so.
5) The relationship between Marguerite and Jereome was so sincere, can you talk about that? Was it always going to be Nurse and Patient?
Yes, it always was. There can be such gentleness, intimacy and tenderness in a relationship of care – but there can also be cruelty and discomfort in both directions because of the inherent imbalance of power. The balance is disorientating and painful for a once-powerful man like Jerome. I wanted their relationship to unfold in a way that was true to their characters; it became clear to me that very early on that it couldn’t be straightforwardly redemptive.
6) Death is obviously a big theme throughout the novel, why is that? Was it a deliberate choice or as the characters developed did it happen?
Because of Jerome’s age and illness death, casts a shadow over the novel from the outset. But that’s true of all life – it always exists hand in hand with death, something that Marguerite learns at an early age. As the novel unfolded I was particularly interested in the choices we make around death – particularly because death itself is seldom a choice.
7) What was your writing process like? Especially for your debut?
I’m not much good at achieving balance in my writing, or trying to fit it round work and other priorities. I write best when I can take a whole week or month away from everything else and immerse myself in it completely. The most important thing for me when writing Nightingale was walking. I went on long, meandering walks and they ended up being a crucial time for everything to percolate.
8) Do you have any advice for other writers?
General writing advice is so hard because everyone’s writing practice is so different. But I think the main thing would be: find a central premise or relationship you find sufficiently compelling that it will sustain you, and go from there.
9) Any plans for book two?
Yes – I am writing a second novel at the moment. It’s been hard to find opportunities for total immersion, particularly now I’m a parent, but I’m getting there.
10) What’s your favourite book?
I studied Classics at University, and the work I always come back to when I want to feel totally literary awe is the Iliad. It’s the most powerful recollection I can think of on what it means to be human and mortal, but it’s also a brilliant piece of storytelling.
Marina Kemp was born in London, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. She studied Classics at Oxford University, and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. Nightingale is her first novel.
So that’s it. That’s the Q+A. Again, a huge thank you to Marina for taking part, I really appreciate it. I only wish I’d been brave enough to ask her to sign my copy of ‘Nightingale’ at the event.
I hope you all enjoyed this and I hope I get to do it again. Thanks for reading.
Until the next review